Vriagoes and PersephonesI’m feeling like I’ve fallen behind a bit on my 20BooksOfSummer while reading some marvellous but substantial non-fiction to review for Shiny New Books. I was supposed to be reading the solid Persephone “The Call” for my next read, but chose this slimmer Dean Street Press book as a quicker win (I’m now reading “The Call” and very much enjoying it). This is my one  Dean Street Press book from their Furrowed Middlebrow imprint I’m reading for 20Books, the aim of which was to get older books read from my TBR, although I have read and reviewed three others in the last month or so that they’ve published more recently (use the search area and add Dean Street Press or follow this link to see them).

Elizabeth Eliot – “Henry”

(21 January 2019 – from Emma)

Another highly entertaining novel written in this author’s rather flat, artless style, and again, as with her “Alice“, seeing the eponymous hero through the eyes of one of the side characters in their lives (in this case, Henry’s sister Anne), but living the novel with that side character as the main character. It’s a nice way of doing things, allowing for a rounded view of the character and some acerbic asides as the gilt gradually wears of Henry for poor old Anne.

I love the acerbic family dialogue discussing WWII, over not too long ago:

‘Of course, it was different for the men, they were fighting.’

‘Some of them weren’t, some of them were just going round with the milk, like Henry.’

My mother said that was not a nice way to speak of my brother, and that the Royal Army Service Corps was a very important part of the army. (p. 9)

All three siblings are a disappointment to their parents, but the family’s slender resources have been poured into Henry, so it’s even worse when he turns out to be a feckless charmer, hopping from woman to woman and racecourse to racecourse:

Henry wasn’t at all the sort of son that father had wanted. I don’t think he was even the sort of son that father had deserved. (p. 39)

Like “Dangerous Ages”, which I’ll be reviewing on Thursday, we have a discussion on freedom and free love, particularly in relation to Henry and his mistress – and once again, convention wins over freedom, even published 30 years later. I was also reminded of other just-post-War books and “Old Baggage” looking at ex-suffragettes, where women who have been liberated into powerful positions temporarily are thrown back into ordinary life and find it hard to cope:

Most of them had nothing but their belief in their organising ability and their pieces of uniform. (p. 192)

and indeed Anne’s employer has everyone in uniform, however unflattering, and not really needed in an office.

Various schemes of Henry’s seem to end with whimpers, and Anne starts to see that he’s just too old to be showing promise any more. What will happen when his looks start to go? In the slightly odd epilogue, two years on from the main ending, nothing seems to have changed, and the book sort of peters out, but it’s such a fun and absorbing read in that voice I love so much in authors.

This was Book 15 in my 20 Books Of Summer project.